Monday, Jan. 11, 2010 -- TRENTON - A bill sponsored by Senators Nicholas P. Scutari and Jim Whelan to legalize medical marijuana for those suffering from chronic and terminal diseases was approved by the Assembly today by a vote of 48-14, and received final legislative approval in the State Senate later in the day by a vote of 25-13.
"This bill recognizes that compassion for the sick and dying and adherence to our nation's war on illegal drugs are not mutually exclusive ideals," said Senator Scutari, D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset. "There is a difference between providing some small measure of comfort for New Jerseyans suffering from chronic and debilitating illnesses, and turning a blind eye to illegal drug abuse. The ‘New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act' creates an avenue of relief for individuals with nowhere else to turn, while maintaining our State's tough stance on recreational drug abuse."
"For some New Jerseyans suffering from chronic and terminal diseases, medical marijuana represents a small glimmer of hope for relief from their symptoms," said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. "For those New Jerseyans who've tried every other alternative to treating their pain and controlling their symptoms, it would be inhumane and cruel to prohibit access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. This isn't about legalizing a recreational high, but rather about getting medicine in the hands of those people who can truly benefit from it."
The bill, S-119, entitled the "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act," would authorize the Department of Health and Senior Services to issue registry identification cards to qualifying patients who have been diagnosed by a licensed physician with whom they have an existing relationship, as having a "debilitating medical condition" to use medical marijuana. The registry card would contain the name, address and date of birth of the patient, the date of issuance and expiration of the card, photo identification of the cardholder, and other information that the Commissioner of Health specifies by regulation. A patient who possesses a registry card would not be subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty by State or local authorities for the medical use of marijuana.
The bill would also allow for the establishment, registration and administration of alternative treatment centers, entities which would acquire, possess, cultivate, manufacture, deliver or dispense marijuana or related supplies and educational materials to registered qualifying patients.
"New Jersey has a demonstrated record of being tough on illegal drug use and the underground drug trade," said Senator Scutari. "However, when it comes to medical marijuana, we're not talking about hardened criminals, but individuals looking for some small bit of relief from chronic pain and debilitating illness. New Jersey has no interest in treating these folks like drug kingpins, and should provide legal access to medical marijuana for New Jerseyans who need it."
Under the bill, the debilitating medical conditions which would authorize the prescription of medical marijuana include: cancer, glaucoma, positive HIV/AIDS status or other chronic, debilitating diseases or medical conditions that produce, or the treatment of which produces, wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services would have the authority to include other medical conditions as it sees fit.
The bill would expressly prohibit anyone under the influence of marijuana from operating a motor vehicle, aircraft or motorboat, and prohibits the use of medical marijuana in a school bus or other form of public transportation, on school grounds, in any correctional facility, or at any public park, beach or recreational or youth center.
"Nationally, we've seen public sentiment shifting from the hard-line war on drugs approach of the 1980s to a more sophisticated approach which recognizes the medicinal benefits of some of these drugs," said Senator Whelan. "As a result, more than a dozen states have adopted bills legalizing medical marijuana use, and the U.S. Attorney General has halted raids on state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries. New Jersey must join in the national trend and show empathy for people suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses."
The bill now heads to the Governor's Office to be signed into law. It was originally approved in the Senate last February by a vote of 22-16.